Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Iron Sharpens Iron: Rethinking how Catholics Approach Each Other and the World

A couple weeks back, my principal wanted to talk about a situation at the school.  In essence, our upper grades were taking trash talk to new and really harmful levels.  It had gotten to the point that suspensions were about to be handed out.  I am not talking about the thinned skinned snowflake like tolerance levels that need to be coddled, no, what was being said was just sinful and needed to stop. Certainly, trash talk and worse is a common staple in today's world.  I remember the 'yo mamma' jokes which were fairly cruel.  The trash talk always seemed to escalate.  Favored targets emerged.  It was a lot of time, energy, and mental creativity misused.  It so happened that someone posted the Into the Breech Video from the Diocese of Phoenix (excellent by the way) in which men were called to become the men God has created them to be.  In that video it quoted  Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man does to another."  It stuck in my craw.  It dominated my prayer.  That's when it hit me.

Our school could have handed out punishments which may or may not solve the problem.  Being a realist, it would have driven the behavior underground.  Kids are going to be kids.  We decided a different tact.  We wanted them to take all the energy and time they spent on tearing each other down and redirect that energy and time to building each other up.  They have become keen on identifying each others weaknesses and faults.  We wanted them to use that energy and intelligence to identify each others strengths and gifts.  Furthermore, in the vein that iron does sharpen iron, we want them to not overlook sin, but to know how to call a person to something better than sin.

The school is a beginning.  I expect the same of myself and my parish.  Make no excuse for sin, make every effort to use the grace of God to build up and strengthen.  Think about it.  Wouldn't you want to belong to a parish where our identified goal is to bring out the best in each other and train people how to bring out the best in each other? Wouldn't you want to be part of a group that expected greatness from you and you could expect greatness from? Wouldn't you want a church that is an oasis in the unrelenting negativity, fault finding, gossip mongering, and character assassination that is today's modern culture, entertainment, and politics?  Wouldn't you want to belong to a parish where we understood beyond the shadow of a doubt that to follow and worship God means looking different than the world? Don't be mistaken, I am not talking utopia...I am talking Navy Seal training.  I am not saying quit engaging this world, but engage it in a radically different way.

Is this not the standard Jesus sets in the Gospel?  Does the unity that Jesus prays for on the night before His death, a unity sealed in His own Body and Blood, not come from the members of that Body strengthening each other?  Do we not receive the Body and Blood of Christ so as to become one?  Does unity come from tearing each other down?  Does it come from viewing each other as the enemy or competition? NO, it comes from us utilizing the grace of God to bolster the strengths and address the weaknesses.

We who claim to follow Christ are called to be as different from the secular world, a world quickly repaganizing,  as light is different from darkness.  We cannot be a light to the world if we look like the world.  Make no mistake, there is NO ROOM for sin, no room for gossip, no room for rivalries, no room for ignoring sin, no room for tearing down our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The devil delights in our rivalries and open warfare!  Every time some one makes a snarky remark about different Mass Rituals (legit ones), every time one sees fit to bypass the levels of fraternal correction given in Scripture and turninto a ecclesial TMZ, every time we openly ridicule instead of seeking to call out better...we have to ask ourselves how much different is our actions from a bunch of grade schoolers trash talking?  Do we imagine for a moment that Jesus will not call us to task for ripping apart what He set in His Body and Blood? Yes, there are abuses happening during Masses and they must be addressed.  That said, does calling for better out of the individuals accomplish that end or will ridiculing them?  Is our end to make ourselves feel superior at the cost of running others down?  Perhaps a Catholic should have a higher modus operendi than a thug!

I am excited to see how this goes.  I pray for a significant transformation in my school and parish.  Don't get me wrong, they are great places now, but as a pastor, I should always be aiming for better.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Why both Married Men and Celibate Priests are Important

The Roman Catholic Priesthood is in the news again.  That is usually not a good thing.  It seems the only time Catholic priests get in the news is when a priest sins, is killed, or when discussion about changing celibacy arise.  The secular world hates the priesthood.    Yes, there are many priests who give ample ammunition to these entities in their disparagement.   There is nothing new in this.  Clergy have been a great source of scandal from the very beginning.  The scandal comes from their unwillingness to live up to the witness that the priesthood is supposed to give: the witness of a man completely configured to the Kingdom of God... a man whose very life points beyond this world.

Essential Witnesses: the Married
 
Both the married life and priesthood give witness to the Kingdom of God.  They do so in distinct and necessary ways.  In marriage, the husband and wife model the union of the Trinity and the union of Christ with His Church.  They model the life creating love that flows from the Trinity.  They model in their families a microcosm of the Body of Christ, the Church.  The witness of a faith infused marriage and the union it represents is a witness is indispensable in this age of free love (which is nothing more than slavery to lust) and disposable and willfully sterile relationships.  The married man's vocation is first and foremost as husband and father.  While it takes tremendous self-control, self-discipline, and sacrifice, being a husband and father is not a job, but a calling...a vocation. A married man's first priority is always his wife and children.  When that first priority becomes a career, an entertainment, or anything other than his family, the marriage suffers for it.

Our culture thinks little of the married life.  It has so twisted the idea of marriage and family that the bond represents little more than an emotional entanglement that is to be enjoyed until it quits being enjoyable.  That a marriage would reflect the life giving bond of the Trinity is deemed impossible and  replaced with a bond racked with the poisons of artificial birth control, cohabitation, abortion,  same sex marriage and really anything that would render this life giving bond sterile and godless.  For the secular world, marriage is little more than a having a life buddy to do stuff with when one is free from the primary concerns of making money and self pleasure. The dignity of marriage should be so diluted as to not see its specific witness and calling.  To the contrary, when Catholics marry, it should point beyond just themselves.  This is why matrimony is a sacrament; such a witness is hard enough with the sacramental grace of God, much harder to impossible without it.

Essential Witnesses: the Celibate

As much as our culture hates the married life, it hates the priesthood more.  Why? It finds the idea of celibacy loathsome.   That a human being should possess the ability to have complete mastery over their sexual impulses stands in complete contradiction to the endless torrent of sexual licentiousness that makes up the overwhelming majority of modern entertainment and morality.  The truly celibate man is a radical witness to the Kingdom of God.  In Mark12:25 Jesus points out that in the Kingdom to come,  that men and women neither marry nor are given in marriage. This is not because there is something wrong with marriage, but the witness is no longer necessary when the absolute union in the Kingdom of Heaven is now the lived reality.  The celibate priest lives in such a way so as to point to this reality of the Kingdom of God.

The world sees no worth in this witness, in fact, it sees this witness as dangerous.  Why is it the media delights in the sexual sin of a priest that it really doesn't in any other group?  For the same reason that a priest giving in to sexual misconduct does such harm...it is a scandal that undermines the powerful witness.  The world wants to say that chastity and celibacy are impossible.  The world believes that man is just another animal who can be manipulated because they operate only on instinct.  A chaste and celibate person stands as a warrior that frightens the devil and his minions.

The Catholic priesthood is supposed to be a bold witness of self-sacrifice and holiness to a world in desperate need of such witness.  The Catholic priest is to give of himself to God and the portion of the flock assigned him every bit as totally as a husband and father is to give of himself to his wife and family.  The base of both husband and priest is the same; the same virtue, the same strength, the same selflessness and willingness to sacrifice are absolute necessities in both. If this is the case, why should a man not be able to do both?  This question is currently being bandied about.

My own worry about the mingling of these two goods is how does one man give himself completely to two vocations. Is his first priority his family (which marriage requires) or his parish (which priesthood requires).  Will not suffer to the good of the other?  Many will say that protestant, some Orthodox and Eastern Catholic clergy do.  My response is that what is expected of these clergy and what is expected of catholic priests are wildly different.  The danger becomes reducing a vocation to a job.  No more than a married man treats his wife and family as a job does a priest treat his duties to God and His people as a job.  Celibacy frees the priest to give himself completely to God and His people.  In I Corinthians 7, St Paul makes the case that a married man is concerned ( and should be) about his wife...  the celibate man or woman can give themselves over to the service of God completely.

Not Looking for the Easy Way Out

We are indeed in a vocation crisis and shortage.  In crisis, there is tendency to panic and look for fixes that lower the standards.  The idea of a simplex priest is such a panic move.  A simplex priest is ordained to provide sacraments.  That we would want greater access to the sacraments is a good thing.  Indeed in times when the Church is driven underground by persecution, such an answer might be needed.  But when the shortage comes as a result of rebellion against God's will, we are writing a prescription for going further down the rabbit hole.  Make no mistake, at the heart of the vocation crisis is a wholesale rebellion against the witness of celibacy.  When I fought against the idea of priesthood, it was because I wanted to get married...and not for the most noble of interest.  Marriage represented the idea of having a woman who I could legally and morally have sex with.  That I would have to control my sexuality for the rest of my life was far too difficult to endure.  I was falling for the lies of our culture.

Priests aren't just needed because we need people to give sacraments and run parishes.  Priests are needed, and I mean GOOD HOLY priests are needed because the witness that celibacy provides is needed so desperately in this world.  In a culture that truly is godless and believes that all there is is in the here and now, that a man would fly in the face of this and live in such a way as to point to the Kingdom of God and the union that awaits for us is bold and brave.  This witness is not unneeded and disposable.

Forging Forward in Witness
 
Each man is called to give witness.  The witness of marriage and priesthood are desperately needed...both of them, in their distinct ways.  This is not disparage priests who are married...not at all.  But when we change the standards , we change the outcome.  This can very dangerous.  Yes, allowing priests to marry, or trying simplex priests might provide temporary relief.  But at what cost?  We cannot see the witness of celibacy and its total self giving it shows die.  It needs to be greater, not lesser.  When man wants to compromise away a standard, it is never to our good.

The culture wants us to move away from this great witness which is probably why we need to move  more strongly to it.  Young men should know the heroic witness they can give if God calls them to priesthood.  While celibacy is one component of priesthood, it is the one under attack right now.  Let us pray that this witness of celibacy grow and grow powerfully.  Priesthood is not a job of manufacturing holy stuff, but  a call to offer oneself completely to the God and His people is the heart of priesthood...it is not a job or career...but a vocation.  Pray that our rebellion against this witness dies and we boldly advance to show the world something beyond itself.  For married men that is to model union and life giving love.  For the priest, it is to give completely to God and His people. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Priest

Every Catholic man is to have as a primary role model Jesus Christ.  Our lives are to be modeled on His strength, courage, self-sacrifice, wisdom, and love.   Do we men get that?  In a world where we model our lives after mere men, even good men we admire like our dads, their and our primary role model is to be Jesus Christ.

I would suppose that the desire to do this would be greatly affected by the image of Jesus we grew up with.   But not all the images are true, in fact, some are demonically false.  The dominant one presented in this culture is a image I call "Jesus the wuss."  This Jesus is one part care bear, one part guru, and about as emasculated as a man can get and still be a male of the species.  He seems to be a bit part actor in a Shakespearean tragedy; a nice guy who dies a tragic death in the overall play of life.    This Jesus makes suggestions for life, almost in an apologetic tone.  But, were we to actually study the Jesus of the New Testament, we get a different picture. 

The Truth of the Matter
 
The Jesus of the New Testament spoke a Gospel that was so dangerous and revolutionary that it upended everything.  His clarion call flew in face of the Roman Empire, the Sanhedrin, the religious authorities so much so that they wanted Him dead.  This was a man who spoke forcefully, pointedly, and firmly.  While He showed great kindness and mercy, He did not back away from a fight.  He didn't care what His image was or what people thought of Him, He came to preach a Gospel.  He sealed this Gospel willingly in His own Blood.  He went to Jerusalem knowing full well that not just death lay ahead, but an excruciating painful and violent death lay ahead. It is in those last days of His life on earth that He shows Himself to be the great and eternal High Priest.  All priesthood flows from His priesthood. 

From the Last Supper through the Crucifixion Jesus makes a new sacrifice and sets a new covenant.  He is the priest that offers up that sacrifice, he is the slain victim in that sacrifice, and in both He intercedes before the Father for us, the beneficiaries of this sacrifice.  Read that line again.  In this we have encapsulated the type of priests we Catholic men are called to be.  It is this steely eyed, full throated,  wise, and strong priest we are called to be.

I speak directly to married men and priests.  Each in our own way, by virtue of our baptism (and for priests, Holy Orders) are called to share in the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  With our anointing (s) with Sacred Chrism, we are are charged with a share in the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  Day in and and day out ,we are called to offer sacrifice for the good of those placed in our care.

The Sacrifice and the One Who Makes it
 
Married man, YOU are called to be the spiritual head of your home.  Your wife has duties as well, but you bear the responsibility before God for being the priest of the family.  You exhibit that priesthood by the sacrifice of your time and energy for the good of your family.  Their care and protection, their growing in God's  grace and Gospel is your responsibility.  Some of this you share with your wife, but you are the one called to be the priest who guides and sacrifices within your home.  However, you cannot be a priest on your own, independent of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, given through the Eucharist.  Your priesthood should lead you and your family into the Eucharistic celebration every Sunday!  If your priesthood does not, then you are misleading the portion of the flock entrusted by God to you!

My brother priests, in a even more powerful way, we make present that sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Mass.  We make the effects of that sacrifice also present through Confession and Anointing of the Sick.  On top of this, like dads and husbands, we too offer up ourselves...our energy, our time, our resources...as a sacrifice as well.  We add to this sacrifice, the sacrifice brought by celibacy, as a way of pointing toward the Kingdom of God.  We pastors are not businessmen selling holy stuff, but men who are to model for the men and boys of our parishes what being a priest of Jesus Christ means.  Our parishioners have a right and need to see in us the fullness of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and His Church.

When we Catholic men neglect or belittle this sacred duty, it is not merely to the detriment of ourselves, but we poison or starve the flock assigned to us.  Can we imagine the Good Shepherd will take this neglect or abuse lightly?  Something about millstones and being thrown into the sea is coming to mind. 

The Intercessor

Brothers, we don't offer sacrifice for the sake of offering sacrifice; sacrifice has an end in mind.  Christ did offer His life on the Cross just for the sake of a violent death and good example.  No, He offers Himself for our good!  He offers Himself as the Prime intercessor before the Father.  Likewise, what we offer is not a going through the motions, or a lifeless and embittered action.  No, when we offer ourselves up, it is for the good of those who God has placed in our care.  Without intercession, we leave our flocks primed for the predators.  Our actions without God's help will always fall short.

The devil greatly appreciates a neglectful priest.  The devil loves a self-absorbed priest.  The devil great appreciates a husband who doesn't pray for his wife, a dad who doesn't pray for his children, a pastor who doesn't pray for his parish.  These men might believe that are being alert and diligent, but without asking for God's will and protection, they bring a knife to a spiritual thermonuclear war. If prayer is not a part of our lives (and my brother priests, that is not just limited to Divine Office and Mass), we lower our guard and both we and our flocks suffer.  The devil has done well in this society to convince men that religion and prayer are for the women and kids.  It is much easier to strike the shepherd and scatter the flock when the shepherd drops his guard.

Men, central to our core identity is that role of protector; we cannot do this without attaching our identity to the identity of Christ the Eternal High Priest. We can shy away like cowards from our role  before God to lead and intercede for our flocks.  We must lay aside the lies that make us believe that this role is not manly.  True manliness is not measured in muscles, money, and power.  True manliness is in resolve, courage, strength , and determination to follow in the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is no easy thing, as those foot prints are bloodied by the sacrifice that is necessary.

I believe deeply that the destruction of the family and the priestly vocation crisis is laid at our feet.  To many of us modeled our call as husbands, dads, and priests on a identity other than Jesus Christ.  The Good News is, though, that we can depart from such a false identity and convert to the truth.  Now is the time, men!  Now is the time to reconfigure our identities away from this world and towards Christ the High Priest!  For it is not the world that will judge us in the end...it will be Christ, the Eternal High Priest!  What kind of priest will He find in us?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Forging Forward in Hope: Lent 2017

Ah Lent!  For some a trial of spiritual masochism in which we make ourselves miserable for 40 days; a time of parting ourselves temporarily from worldly excess.  It becomes more a trip of spiritual Darwinism where only the most spiritually fit survive.  Hand us our  flagellum and let the beating commence!  If this is your view of Lent, I have only two words for you: STOP IT!!!! 

Lent is a time of purification in preparation for the Season of Easter.  It's 40 days, beginning Ash Wednesday, stretch like Jesus' 40 days in the desert or Israel's 40 days in the desert.  For Israel, their 40 years were a time a purification from their faithlessness and fear.  For Jesus, His 40 days were a time of preparation for His entering into His public ministry of the proclamation of the Gospel, with its climax in the crucifixion and resurrection.  Our 40 days are both, a time of purification and preparation.  The tools of Lent tell us much about the reason for the season.

Ashes, Ashes, We all Fall Down

The season begins with Ash Wednesday.  The ashes are made from the palms of the prior year's Palm Sunday.  The use of ashes remind of the old Latin phrase, "Sic transit gloria mundi."  Thus passes the glory of the world.  From 1409 to 1963 these words were used in the installation of a new pope, to remind Him all the glory he sees on display is temporary; his ministry is to point to the higher.  The ashes remind us that all we see, even our very bodies, will be ash one day.  What a woeful thing to connect our hopes to future ash!  Lent calls us to attach ourselves to the eternal.

The readings of the Mass remind us to 'rend our hearts, not our garments (Joel 2:13) and remind us of the tripod of Lent in the Gospel: fasting, praying, and alms-giving,  Each Lent begins with  a like theme to Advent: preparing the way of the Lord  in our hearts.  These actions have a purpose that are not meant to be hoops to jump through for 40 days, they are to set us on a path for victory.  What have fasting, abstinence, and alms-giving to do with victory?  What have they to do with preparation for Easter?  I am glad you asked?

Detachment 101

If we are to move from a fixation on the temporal and move to a gaze fixed on the eternal, then a change in direction will be required.  While we live, we are surrounded by temporal.  Everything we know can be sensed.  It is easy to get fixed on these things.  Furthermore, when we live in a society where the accrual of earthly goods is the primary goal, where the sating of our passions and appetites is dominant, we can be enslaved to the temporal order.  We become enslaved to ash.  Lent bids us to take a chisel and hammer to our chains.  This comes in the form of a focus on the cardinal virtue of temperance.

The idea of giving something up for Lent, also known as abstinence, is about flexing some temperance muscle.  Oftentimes we will give up something for Lent in order to temper our addiction to a worldly thing: candy, TV, social media, and so on.  Abstinence misunderstood becomes cyclical; namely that we go through the hard work of breaking our chains only to reforge them again once the Easter season arrives.  Somehow, "Alleluia, Christ is Risen" and "Woohoo, let's go back to my enslavement" are not terribly coherent.  In utilizing the virtue of  temperance, we seek to be free of needing what we gave up.  Truth be told, our lives will function just fine without what we gave up.  IN fact, if we are honest, our lives fare better.

Lent is supposed to further growth away from the temporal and towards the eternal, not be a yo yo between the two planes.    Fasting, furthers this theme of detachment, reminding ourselves that our appetites can be contained, our passions can be held in check, and we can do so with great joy and grace.  Mortification, a word long banished from the modern lexicon because why we would do something purposely to make ourselves miserable.  Mortifications are actions that point us to a greater good.  If we are in a bad place of enslavement, then mortifications will make us miserable for a bit.  Mortification, while not called by this word, is more common than you think.

Mortification can come on that hot humid summer day running drills at football practice.  It i done not to make the player miserable, but to teach essential skills if one wishes to be victorious. Mortification comes in the form of the training of soldiers, especially of special forces, in which their bodies and minds are pushed to their limits so as to achieve an excellence.  Mortification comes in the form of the student who studies instead of going out with friends, done to achieve an excellence in education and academics. Mortification comes in form a weigh lifters challenging himself, a dancer doing the same steps over and over and over again, or anyone else pursuing excellence in a field.  Surely, if we will do this for things that pass to as, all the more we should be doing it for the eternal!

Dropping the Mirror

The next leg in the tripod is alms-giving.  In redirecting our focus away from the enslavement to the things of this world, our eyes are opened to that which eternal.  The eternal is soaked in self-giving love.  Being freed of enslavement, we drop our mirrors and see the world as a place in which to love persons and not things.  Self-giving love is never a static thing.  It seeks to reach and give.  To this end, the Scriptures talk about alms-giving.  It means to give of our resources for the good of others.  With our vision being cleared, we find there is much out there in need of our intervention.  Not consumed by our wants, we clearly see another person's needs.

Alms-giving is the natural sibling of detachment.  In our changing direction and focus, we now look to the good of others as we believe God looks to our good.  Alms-giving shows a thankfulness to God and recognition of His goodness in our lives.  When we joyfully give to the needs of others, we show ourselves to be children of our Father.  Remember, God is never to be outdone in generosity!

Knowing our Source

 Let's be honest though.  This IS hard.  If detachment and alms giving, everyone would be doing it.  But many do not, because it is hard.  The third leg of the tripod is prayer.  It is a desire to grow closer to God through being more intentional in our prayer and spending added time in prayer.   All the good works in the world will not usher into heaven.  No, a relationship with God does and that relationship can not be ignored.

Be mindful, that while prayer is not merely flinging words at God, or sitting in a place where people happen to be praying, prayer is willful engagement of our will directed toward God.  Our prayer must be humble and honest...not to ourselves...but to God.  The prayer of a person seeking God's help to change to the positive would require a confession of failing to do so, an acknowledgment of the chains of habitual sin, and a desire to be free of these chains once and for all.

As Catholics, we are given this grace in the most concrete form through the sacraments, particularly in the two we can do many times over: Eucharist and Confession.Through the Scriptures, the sacraments, and the Church, God makes it clear He wants a place in our lives every day.  Hence studying the Scriptures, praying, engaging in the sacraments, and actively ridding ourselves of the chains of enslavement show God we want a daily place in His life.


The end goal of Lent, in its purification and preparation, is to forge forward in hope, setting a trajectory towards eternal life. The goal is 40 days of misery with a recapitulation to  the sin we were tempering; but to walk out of Lent and into Easter a free person purged of needless weight.  The prayer. alms-giving, and detachment are not temporary, but life long companions that draw us closer to God and into eternal life...the life of the Resurrection.  So, chin up, shoulder up, and march on and away from what you hope to leave behind on Ash Wednesday! 

The Catholic Man, The Catholic Priest as Prophet

Prophet.  The etymological root of the word 'prophet', comes from the Greek 'prophetes', which means 'spokesman'.  The prophet spoke not his own words, but the words of he who sent him.  In the Old Testament and with St John the Baptist, the prophets were spokesmen for God.  Through these prophets, God sent words of comfort and warning, words of destruction and rebirth.  Through the prophets, the Messiah was foretold and pointed towards.  They made known the word of God regardless of the risk.

When we baptized, we were given a share in the prophetic role of Jesus Christ and His Church through our anointing with Sacred Chrism.  If we were baptized as infants, the ephphatha prayer (Greek for 'Be opened') was said over us as our lips and ears were touched, praying that our ears would be open His word and our mouth loosed to proclaim His word.To be a prophet though requires two things:

1) To be a prophet means we must have a relationship with Christ.  We cannot be the spokesman for someone we do not know.  Men, for far too long, have seen a relationship with Jesus as something not manly.  We have bought into a secular lie that such things (which we dismissively call 'religion') are the thing of women and young children.  Nothing so stills the prophetic tongue as a man who buys this weasel bit of deceit.  How can we be the spiritual head of our home without owning the prophetic role?  How can we be prophets when our relationship is far less than what it should be with God?  For us as men, this means we pray, we engage in the cultivation of virtue by which we are loosened from the deceit of this world.

2) To be a prophet means we must have a relationship with Christ's Body, the Church.  As Catholics we are not free agents.  We belong to a Body of Christ much larger than ourselves and are given the role of a shepherd when we step into the role of our vocation.  To have a relationship with Christ's Body means that we seek knowledge of what that Body teaches and stands for.  Otherwise, our tongues are reduced to compromising and deceitful babble.   The true prophet must have a relationship with the truth.

Furthermore, a man who wishes to live up to the challenge of being a prophet must make regular use of the sacraments.  A man who stays away from the Eucharist will be a prophet starved of grace who will fall into deceit and become a false prophet.  A man who stays away from the sacrament of Confession will be a man whose humility is so crushed that lacking self reflection and its attendant honesty, he will not be able to distinguish between truth and deceit.  His prophetic message will become and amalgamation of worldly wisdom with a Catholic facade...a very thin facade.   The prophet who severs himself from the company of Christ and His Church still remains a prophet, only he now becomes a false prophet.

The signs that a man is falling short of his prophetic role as a catholic man:

A) He is vain.  The vain man, the man who is worried about the way he is perceived, will still the prophet's tongue quickly.  The man who worries about appearances will retreat quickly; he will be driven by the prevailing winds of society.  The vain man has his reputation as his god.  Any teaching of the faith that is unpopular he will restrain from saying as he is more worried about how is perceived and the consequences following.

B) He is afraid.  Vanity births fear. Those who have reputation as a god, have an insatiable god who demands much lest his gifts be quickly taken away.  The vain man will allow fear to still his tongue to unpopular truth.  I have heard many times how a cleric stayed away from preaching unpopular because he would see a drop in his collection.  The slightest prick of even the likelihood of persecution will deter him away from being a true prophet.

C) He delegates away his responsibility.   How many men have delegated away being spiritual head of their home to their wives?  How many are content with her being the primary teacher while they do their own thing?  How many clerics delegate away key components of the prophetic office to a myriad of others while taking the one moment they cannot readily forfeit, the homily, and filling with insignificant fluff?  Despite the fact that in many places the cleric has actually had graduate level training in theology, he can barely bring himself to step into any teaching role, has no knowledge of what his delegates are teaching, and is safely ensconced in his lair where he can be Fr. Nice.  It is a safe place that protects the reputation he wants.  How many men are quite satisfied with allowing their wives go to things such as classes, prayer, retreats and anything else that bolsters their role so that the wife and not her husband can be built up in their identity?  In delegating away his responsibility, the Catholic man and priest shows he is ruled by fear.

Brothers, we cannot let these things rule us.  Our society grows darker and darker as we sit silent. The truth is, we are either pursuing darkness or light.  The devil owns the fence on which so many of us sit. A true man doesn't take the attitude of let the truth be damned, but takes the attitude of let the darkness be damned!  He stands like a warrior and professes the light.  His tongue is not silenced by the deceit of our secular world.  His manliness is not contingent upon his reputation.  His identity is not determined by worldly wisdom.

You can be very sure that speaking the truth will bring persecution.  It will be unpopular.  It always has been.  Every prophet knows that his words will comfort some and infuriate others, depending of what god they serve.  But the true Catholic man and Catholic priest is no coward.  He does what is necessary to be the prophet God has created and baptized him to be. He bears willingly, as did Jesus his own cross, what will come with being a prophet to the truth.  He is the St Thomas More,  the St Maximilian Kolbe,  the St John Paul II, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the man who stands up to the mightiest of tyrants and even into the face of the King of Tyrants, the devil himself, with an stern jaw, a steely look,  and a  determined stance and says, "You have no power to bring me to cower in fear, I will proclaim the truth!"

Brothers, let us take on the mantle of the prophet we were baptized into so that in our homes and churches we model for the young men and boys  placed in our care how to be the fearless and faithful prophet we are called to be!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Provider

In past columns, I have written about the role of the Catholic man and the Catholic priest as warrior and healer.  Certainly, the role of the shepherd includes these things.  The shepherd must defend his flock and must heal his flock when damage has happened.  However, the vast majority of the time of a shepherd is in feeding his flock.  He also trains his flock so they don't wander away and into danger. 

Many men used to see the role of provider as the strongest role.  However, it was narrow definition: they earned the money to buy what was needed for the care of their family. This is important to be sure.  But being a provider is much larger.  Why?  Because the needs of his flock are much greater than merely taking care of their physical beings.  Because our flock are also spiritual and intellectual beings, there are things that we do to provide to address.

The husband is called by the Scriptures to be the spiritual head of the home.  This has fallen in so very many ways in western Christianity.  When the father abandons the faith, it has a profound effect on the faith of their flock.  In 1994, the Swiss government commissioned a stud that was published in 2000.  the study was on the effect of the faith of parents on the faith of their children.  The largest factor was the faith or lack thereof the father.  If the dad is disengaged from faith or random about faith, they likelihood of the child adhering to the faith plummeted to 2-3%.  When the dad model faithlessness, the children will normally and overwhelmingly follow suit.  How can we believe that the God who gave these children to our care will take kindly to our isolating our children from Him?

Husbands have a primary job before God to lead their wife and children to God.  He has his wife leading him closer to God.  A man can provide every earthly benefit to his child but lead both him and his children to eternal damnation if he neglects teaching his children to enter into and hold onto a relationship with Christ and His Church. So many men will abandon this role to their wife who already has a role in the spiritual development of her children.  Some do this because they are indifferent to faith.  Some do it because they feel inadequate.  Most do because being a spiritual head of home was not modeled for them.  They don't know how to do it. Their dads didn't teach them how and neither did their priests.

A priest is called 'father'.  That is not a title of respect.  No, it is a constant reminder of his duty.  I would imagine every time a dad hears his child call him 'dad', he is reminded of the duty he owes this child.  A bad dad only worries about what the child owes him  A bad priest only worries about what he is owed.  Every time I hear 'father', I don't hear a clerical version of being called mister, no I hear the voice of someone who is looking to me to provide.  It is the term of a relationship. 

When we priests run our parishes as businesses, fraternal orders, social work agencies, or country clubs, we poison the role we are to fill.  When we cease to see our parishioners as our family, fellow members of the Body of Christ and see them as customers, we radically denigrate the spiritual heritage we are given.  Being a dad is not a 9-5 job.  The children will have needs 24/7.  Our flock, our parishioners, have needs 24/7.  We priests are supposed to model what it means to be a spiritual head of the home.  I believe the more we center our identity on the this, the greater we see vocations rise.  We must stop delegating our duties to series of nannies and walk away for our own self fulfillment.  The spiritual head of him is called to be poured out like a libation, not walled up behind a dam whose spillways are occasionally opened and only the excess is let loose.

Both dads/husbands and priests must understand that being the provider is a matter of throwing money at bills and programs and letting someone else do the interpersonal stuff.   Well kept buildings are worthless when they stand empty.  Providing the care and leadership is more hands on and done a personal cost.  The greatest thing we provide is example.  We are called by virtue of our baptism to build up the Body of Christ; that is done by the active engagement in the lives of those placed in our care.  That is done by consciously and selflessly providing for those in our care. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Physician

The Scriptures are littered with miracles.  From the cure of paralytics, the blind, deaf, and even dead, Jesus is a divine physician.  In many of these stories a direct correlation is made between the physical healing and the forgiveness of sins.  In previous columns I have written about how the Catholic man and the catholic priest are called to be warriors.  Some of their duties also are in the realm of Jesus the healer.  We true Catholic men must be agents of healing.

To this end we are given the tools of wisdom, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.  It is a divine art to apply these as needed.  Wisdom teaches us the difference between condoning behavior and forgiving.  Wisdom teaches us the difference between mercy and enabling destructive behavior.  Compassion teaches us how to apply the remedy.  As in medicine, sometimes one must be super gentle with a horrific wound, sometimes one must be a bit more forceful in setting a broken bone back into place, sometimes one must perform surgery to get at the wound, and sometimes one must be more forceful as in physical therapy.  The goal is always to heal, not to do further damage. Mercy teaches us to look with caution upon what needs be helped.  Forgiveness is the salve, the bandaging, the cast that helps the person to move forward.

As a physician, we must be truthful.  A poor physician withholds the truth in fear of a negative reaction.  The abusive physician neglects the ills of others or inflicts such fear as to make him unapproachable.  We Catholic men should be so attentive to the flock placed in our care that we notice the new limp or the sickly look.  Our compassion should look to address these things immediately.  Our compassion should draw those in need to us. This requires a great deal of selflessness and willingness to sacrifice and inconvenience  ourselves for the sake of our charges.  Inasmuch as we suffer the slings and arrows of or wicked enemy, the devil, so do those in our charge.  We don't leave the flock for dead.   In fact, we are told when we allow a person to stay in sin without at least calling them back, their death partially becomes our responsibility.  A courageous man doesn't shrug his shoulder and pass on by.  A catholic man doesn't abandon his role as physician.  The Catholic man must be wisely liberal with mercy and bind the wounds, even self inflicted, of his flock.

To my brother priests:  Nothing so scatters the flock like a neglectful or abusive priest.  Our flocks should find agents of God's rich mercy in each of us.  We, too, need to drink deeply of the the well of mercy.  A priest, or any man, who deludes himself into ignoring or facilitating his own sins will scarcely attend to the healing of other people's sin.  The priest that is keenly aware of his need for God's healing mercy will make that same mercy abundantly available to his flock.  So many times I have seen my brother clerics beat down someone who wishes to right their ship because they haven't got it righted just yet.  I have seen them turn them away because 'no' is easier than pulling people out of the wreckage.  Can we believe for a second we will be spared for such negligence and dereliction of duty?

I have seen brother priests who are extravagant with the times they afford for confession and are attentive to their dying and ill.  I have also seen some that treat confession as an undo burden and have a flock that dang well better have the decency to die during business hours or they are out of luck.  I pray for the mercy of God for those who die in a state of mortal sin because a priest would not make himself available in time of crisis.  Sometimes sharing in the role of the divine physician means you have the duty of the emergency room physician.  A physician on call doesn't say to the person rolled in with traumatic wounds, "Aw man, sorry, it's my lunch time...try not to bleed to death before I get back."

Whether it is the Catholic husband and father or the Catholic priest, we are given a part of a flock that is not ours first, the flock (our family or parish) belongs to God first.  We will be held responsible for what happens to our flock.  My brother priest, we fool ourselves if we think offering confessions once a week on a Saturday afternoon doesn't send a message that we don't think confession is all that important.  Some of the deepest hurt I have seen is from a family whose loved one was neglected in the last moments by a slothful priest.  To us, by virtue of our priestly ordination, has been given that singular grace of Orders by which to become agents of God's eternal forgiveness.  As men ourselves, we must model mercy to the men of our parish, not in mere fancy words, but in deeds as well.